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Morency is underrated player in NCAA football

Nov. 11, 2004

By MATT RICHARDS, sports writer

When Big 12 football writers get together to talk about the conference's best rusher, it's usually a three-horse race.

The University of Oklahoma's true freshman running back Adrian Peterson, a candidate for the Heisman Trophy, tends to be the consensus best of the three. He's having a storied season with a streak of nines games with over 100 yards rushing.

Second traditionally falls to The University of Texas senior running back Cedric Benson, leading the conference's top rushing attack. A conciliatory third usually goes to Kansas State University's senior running back Darren Sproles, more for what he did last season rather than this season.

All discussion ends there.

Overshadowed by these three is a little-known running back making waves at Oklahoma State University. He could be the best kept secret in the Big 12, if not the nation. He also could make a case he's better than Sproles, Benson and even Peterson.

His name is running back Vernand Morency, and he's been under the national radar for far too long.

"I'd say he's one of the best [we've seen this year]," Baylor head Coach Guy Morriss said. "He's a quality back, no question."

The stats show Morency could be the best, certainly comparable with every other back in the conference.

With two games left in the season, Morency is third in rushing in the Big 12, only 27 yards behind Peterson. But Peterson has 12 more carries than Morency. Given his 5.9 yards per carry average, he'd be ahead of Peterson with those extra carries.

Morency's 12 touchdowns in nine games gives him an average of 1.3 per game, good for second in the conference behind Benson's 17. Once again, Benson's 15 more carries gives him an advantage.

Nationwide, Morency is fifth in the nation in total rushing with 1,346 yards, only a handful behind Peterson. As a team, OSU is eighth in the country in rushing and second in the conference behind Texas with 246 yards per game.

The success of the Cowboys' offensive attack begins and ends with their ability to run the ball with Morency. The offense centers on him.

"He makes them go," Morriss said. "You don't see him really getting hit. You just don't see him taking a lot of punishment."

One would think with these numbers, Morency would finish either first or second in the running for the best back in the conference, if not the country. You would think Morency would be a household name, just like Benson, Sproles or Peterson.

But most fans outside of Stillwater, Okla., haven't even heard of Morency.

Taking a back seat on the national stage to other prominent players has become a way of life for Morency. The first name to overshadow Morency was former Florida Marlins turned New York Yankees outfielder Gary Sheffield. Morency's first love was baseball, discovered while he attended Northwestern High School in Miami.

Sheffield discovered Morency at a baseball camp playing in a RBI league sponsored by the Florida Marlins when he was 11 years old. The then Marlins outfielder took Morency under his wing.

At the same time, Morency was overshadowed on a football team full of future NFL talent like Santana Moss, Antonio Bryant and Snoop Minnus. All four played on the same high school squad at the same time.

Even with offers from several Division-I football programs, the lure of baseball drew him to the minor leagues. He was drafted in the 14th round by the Colorado Rockies in 1998. A center fielder, Morency's career in baseball never materialized as he topped out at double-A with a .230 batting average.

He was encouraged to reconsider football in 2002 by fellow outfielder Matt Holliday, the son of a former OSU baseball coach. He later accepted a scholarship from the Cowboys.

In his first two seasons in Stillwater, Morency bid his time behind former running back Tatum Bell. This season, with a young quarterback in freshman Donovan Woods under center, the leadership of the team comes from the backfield.

Statistically, when Morency runs for more than 115 yards a game and gets more than 25 carries, the Cowboys win. When he doesn't, they lose.

"We didn't frustrate him at all, despite early struggles," the University of Missouri head Coach Gary Pinkel told ESPN.com after Morency ran for 173 yards. "He just kept hammering away with the confidence of a veteran and made plays as time went on."

The worst part for the rest of the conference about Morency's story is that it's just getting started. He's already decided to fulfill a promise to his parents by returning next year to play out his senior season.

"I got a scholarship, and I'm going to fulfill that," Morency told ESPN.com. "Everything will pay off in time."

Maybe, in time, the rest of the nation will discover this secret in Stillwater.